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363rd ISRW Turns 70

Col. Jonathan C. Rice IV, commander, 363rd Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing, provides opening comments.

Col. Jonathan C. Rice IV, commander, 363rd Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing, provides opening comments at the 363rd Wing’s 70th Anniversary Celebration at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia. The 363rd Reconnaissance Wing was the first Air Force wing at Langley AFB.

Two Airmen cutting a cake.

The senior and junior Airmen of the 363rd Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, cut the cake at the 363rd ISRW’s 70th Anniversary Celebration. Col. Jonathan C. Rice IV is 363rd ISRW commander and Airman Gabriell Norris is a 363rd Intelligence Support Squadron client systems technician.


Airmen from the 363rd Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing gathered at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, on Aug. 15, 2017, to celebrate the 70th anniversary of their wing’s activation.

“Our wing started out as a reconnaissance and intelligence organization 70 years ago,” said Col. Jonathan C. Rice IV, commander, 363rd ISRW, in his opening remarks.  “That we are an Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing today seems so very appropriate as our Airmen build upon the 363rd’s proud heritage of dynamic adaptability and audacious innovation, helping us continually evolve into the wing the Air Force needs us to be.”

On August 15, 1947, the 363rd Reconnaissance Wing activated at what was then Langley Field. Activated as part of the wing-base test conducted from 1947-1948, the 363rd was the first Air Force wing on Langley. As such, the wing operated and managed all of the enabling functions on the base. The 363rd moved to Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, in 1951.

Responsible for training and conducting day and night photographic and visual reconnaissance, the wing’s pilots flew propeller-driven RB-26s and the reconnaissance version of the Air Force’s first operational jet fighter, the RF-80. 

While the Airmen of the wing focused on tactical reconnaissance through the late 1980s, the 363rd’s Airmen continually innovated and adapted operational procedures and tactics to accommodate almost every type of tactical reconnaissance aircraft in the Air Force inventory, all while serving with distinction during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Dominican Republic Crisis, the war in Southeast Asia and the Pueblo crisis.

The arrival of the wing’s first F-16 in 1982 marked the most significant change to the 363rd’s mission in 35 years. The shift from reconnaissance to fighter operations ushered in a cycle of transformation, and excellence would become a hallmark of the wing’s heritage.

For a time, the 363rd served as Tactical Air Command’s only wing with fighter and reconnaissance missions, but by 1989, the 363rd had transferred its venerable RF-4s to other units. 

For the next four years, the wing focused on air-to-air and air-to-ground fighter operations, serving with distinction in combat during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

From 1998 to 2003, the 363rd served as the Air Force’s primary Air Expeditionary Wing in Southwest Asia, conducting combat operations in support of Operations Southern Watch and Enduring Freedom. 

In 2007, the 363rd activated at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, building partnerships and tactical capabilities, as well as improving interoperability to facilitate integrated air operations and missile defense with partners in the Gulf.

In February 2015, almost 70 years after its first activation, the 363rd returned to Langley as an Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance wing, providing precision targeting, special operations ISR and full-spectrum analysis for warfighting operations worldwide.  While this transition constituted yet another chapter in the 363rd’s multifaceted history, this change also marked a return to the wing’s roots.